Saturday, October 23, 2010

UFC 121: The Sound of Mariachi Bands

UFC comissioner Dana White whizzed to the podium on a broom and began a power point presentation on civilian deaths in Baghdad sporting a Tuf Enuf polo shirt. He cackled and disappeared in a puff of smoke.

I apologize if I have titled another UFC with that name, however. On to the fights.

Yang vs. Camozzi

When I claim lack of evidence and throw my hands up, doesn't lend any less credence to the pick. I will have to throw all of the numbers in a spread sheet at some point and see if they meet statistical significance. I doubt it. Old .05, you shady mother. Who are these people? I have seen one fight, but wasn't moved enough to remember. Yang by being Asian in the 1st.

Yvel vs. Madsen

Yvel has always had some degree of talent, but it was incomplete and came in spells. He is also someone who has never seemed to take his career too seriously. I don't think that much of Madsen either, but Yvel has showed us nothing as of late. Madsen by TKO in the 2nd.

Stout vs. Taylor

There is a lot too like about this fight. Some might favor it because it is as close as one can get to a guarantee of a stand-up battle. That is not my reasoning, but it bears somewhat on it. I like this fight because both Stout and Taylor are technically good at what they do. They are both stand-up specialists, but they specialize there because they are skilled at it. In the end, I think that Stout has the variety of techniques and the creativity of implementation to get him a KO in the 3rd. Should be a good one.

Guymon vs Roberts

I must apologize, but neither guy has ever done it for me. I appreciate Guymon's battle against depression and his openness about the situation, but as a fighter, he has never been impressive. Robert's has a great record against low level guys and a medicore one against medicore guys. Guymon is much of the same. I go with Guymon by decision here, but I don't really care or claim any insight.

Cote vs Lawlor

Lawlor has been more entrance than results lately. Then again, my favorite fighter ever is Sudo Genki, so how can I fault him for that. Cote is a tough guy but is coming off of a serious knee injury. I don't count Cote out of most fights and I don't bet on Lawlor. Somehow though, I can't trust that knee injury and I think Lawlor wrestles for the split decision.

McGee vs. Jensen

This is becoming a theme here, but I don't think much of either guy here. Not personally of course, they are enchanting gentlemen. It is my belief that the last season of TUF, which McGee won, was Nick Ring's to lose, and after he dropped out with an injury, the results were slightly invalid. Not that McGee didn't earn it, I just don't think he is the strongest champion they could have had. Jensen has been fighting for 13 years and has a decent record. He isn't great, but I am picking him here. Why? I am waiting to see McGee in real competition before deciding on who he is as a fighter. Jensen by sub in the 1st.

Schaub vs. Gonzaga

I was a Gonzaga backer. I was sold. I am not asking for a refund, but I am don't believe in the product so much anymore. What you can never predict about a fighter is how he is going to react to getting hit in the face, and Gonzaga doesn't react well. He is insanely talented and has the tools to be a champion, but he is incomplete in a heavy weight division that is improving by the season. I like Schaub. I like that his striking is disciplined and his athleticism isn't theoretical. He can fire a straight jab and a good 1-2. I am picking Schaub by KO in the 1st.

Ortiz vs. Hamill

I never rode the Ortiz hype train. I never rode it either way. I always liked him as a fighter but was neutral on his shenanigans. Some people might forget the way he ran his division not that many years ago. WHen Hamill first showed up on the scene, i thought he was the new Koscheck at 205. He hasn't quite grown into what I expected, but I certainly think he defeated Bisping and I can see him knocking off plenty of other guys. He hits messy, but hard and he can wrestle. He has a tendency to get hurt though, and express it in weird ways. It seems to really take him out of a fight. One advantage I can see Tito having here is on the ground with submissions. If you can remember the nasty triangle/armbar he threw on Machida, at the end of their bought, then you can surely see ways for Hamill to lose. Nevertheless I am taking Hamill by TKO in the 3rd because I no longer trust Tito's health or his mental state.

Thiago vs. Sanchez

Sanchez is back with Greg Jackson, but is he back to being a guy I would never bet against? No. But Thiago is. Yes he is coming of a loss but he has rugged striking and real grappling and I see him as a hard match-up for Sanchez. If Diago is back to being the cardio robot, mentally focused fighter that he used to be, he can scarmble and threaten to get a decision, but I find Thiago to be mentally and physically tough and I think he is just not the right opponent for Sanchez. Thiago by decision.

Shields vs. Kampmann

I hate it when they match-up guys that I usually would pick against anyone else. Shields is finally in the big show and looking for a title run. I was calling for the ascendancy of Kampmann as soon as he came on the scene, but injuries have set him back. Kampmann's calling card has always been that he was a high level striker who could represent on the ground. Of course he was representing against Drew Mcfedries. Shileds has always been a guy that I thought was far better than people gave him credit for. Lately they have been giving him the credit. Now I think he is a fighter who gets just the right amount of credit. I can see Kampmann hanging in on the ground enough to get back up and get in his shots, but Shields has never shown that much of a chin deficiency. After Shields' defeat of Dan Henderson, I think I am going to have to go with him by decision.

Lesnar vs. Velasquez

I should be clear from the outset, I don't want Lesnar to win. I don't like him as a fighter or as a person. He has been less intolerable lately, but it is hard to make up for years of homophobia, attitude and ass-hattery. That shouldn't prejudice my ability to look at the fight, but it definitely colors my tone. Clearly I am not the only one who feels this way and many hard-core fans will strain to find reasons why it is clear that Velasquez will take this one running away. Whether it is his stamina or his heart or his kick-boxing skills. As usual, what people seem to forget about stamina is that it seems to go away quickly when you are getting beat on and hurting from it. If Lesnar can hold Cain down and drill him with his cannonball appendages that I think we might see Velasquez's vaunted stamina wane.

Lesnar is certainly progressing by leaps and bounds as a fighter. We have to be fair and attribute this to the hard work that he has been willing to put in and a very strong drive to maintain as champion. I respect him much more than I used to. What worries me about Lesnar, as a fighter, is something I mentioned in reference to Gonzaga earlier. He seems to have bad reactions to getting punched. It was amazing that he was able to survive Carwin's barrage in his last fight, but he reacted in lots of self defeating ways. Namely by curling up on he ground and waiting.

A strategy I would like to see for Velasquez is just jabbing and taking other punches that come while moving and avoiding take-downs in the first. I would like him to throw leg-kicks, but only at the end of punch combinations. And even then, not ambitious kicks but hard and precise. If he could stay with this in the second, Lesnar's legs might start to go on him and then Cain could be more aggressive with less power in Brock's shots. The big threat for Velasquez is that Lesnar has face-melting power in every punch and an incredible reach so that he can end the fight quickly even from awkward positions.

There is a lot we don't know about how this fight will play out, and that makes it interesting. I am calling a Velasquez TKO victory in the early 4th. Who knows.

Take it to the Dean's office.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Diplomat in Japan

I just finished reading Sir Ernest Satow's A Diplomat in Japan. It is not a breathtaking piece of literature, but a highly informative, if slightly skewed, window into the fall of the bakufu in Japan. His is certainly an exceptional story, coming to Japan in 1862 as a student translator with the British legation. He ended up mastering the language and being present at the most critical moment in the making of modern Japan.

Satow's view of the world is certainly as a man of privilege and power. He isn't insufferable but could surely be termed a man of his times. However, he isn't a blathering racist or an uptight pawn of the empire. He is a member of the elite, interacting with other elites in fairly extraordinary circumstances. The book was a good companion piece to the insanely popular NHK historical drama Ryoma Den, which I have been watching, pretty much, of my own free will. Although Satow only mentions Ryoma once, and that by his hilarious pseudonym, Saidani Umetaro, characters from the drama suck as Kido and Saigo show up frequently and as actual humans.

My real interest in the book was twofold. First, seeing the area that I live in and indeed the Japan of that time through Satow's eyes was incredible. The moment he crossed the mountains from Uji to Fushimi and caught sight of the Kyoto that he was forbidden to enter certainly made me ache for a time machine. One of my favorite things about the area that I live in is it isn't too hard to picture what he saw. I could probably set out this weekend and find the hill.

But at last we reached the summit, and gained a magnificent view of the great plain below, in the centre of which lies the mysterious and jealously guarded Kioto, like a Japanese Mecca, in which it was death for the heathen foreigner to set his foot. pg. 266

Second, wait, Let me pause before going into this reasoning to say that I am very skeptical of picking out little things in history, connecting them to the present and declaring that they are representative of any national character. Nevertheless there are chords that stretch through a culture and things in the past that have made or present will still be able to be seen in our future in a way that tomes like Gunfighter Nation illuminate for us. These kind of anecdotes dot the narrative laid down and one can only picture Satow coming on these scenes anew and not being able to see them manifest in our present.

For the idea then entertained by every Japanese was that the ford of the stream was too great for a boat to live in it, and that a bridge was impossible. As it has since been successfully bridged, the probability is that this belief was purposely inculcated. pg. 234

For anyone who has lost hours in modern Japan having explained to them how something completely feasible is utterly impossible, I think this will ring true.

It seemed curious...that the common people should be ready to obey him, but the Japanese...had a great appetite for being governed, and were ready to submit to anyone who claimed authority over them. pg 357.

Controversial. Possibly racialist. Up for debate? I should point out that he is referring to the "lower classes" here, not the samurai who, as befits the origin of their name, would submit to being governed, but would also kill to not be governed. Marinate on it.

A wretched being, who had been to the Untied States and had picked up a few words of low English was put... to wait on me, as if I was so ignorant of Japanese as to need an interpreter. It was explained that he was the only one of the clan who understood European manners. pg. 277

There is a lot going on here. I rather enjoy Satow's arrogance in this respect. He began his training in classical Chinese and was charged with translating documents from the Mikado and the Shogun. So, some samurai's throw a guy in front of him who speaks some sailors English in an attempt to communicate. I won't pin this one on the Japanese, this happens to me frequently in America when older gentleman who used to serve in the Navy gleefully give me their repertoire of Japanese. Classical it ain't. This passage also illustrates a trend I saw a good deal of as an exchange student and then as a friend of exchange students in the US. Often, new speakers of a language pick up the speaking habits of their cohort. And why wouldn't they? My Japanese is certainly shaped by playing football and spending a lot of time in fighting gyms. The only issue I have is when people aren't cognizant of this phenomenon and assume that a limited understanding on their part shapes the whole on the other. This is a bit of a stretch in the discussion, but the teacher next to me just asked, "Foreign people who come to Japan really like Japanese food don't they?" My completely non-entertaining response was that people who chose to visit Japan had an inherit bias to liking Japanese food, being willing to try new foods, and saying nice things as they were in another country. Swinging back to the original point, often, especially in my line of work, a person who has some foreign contact, whatever that might mean, is put in charge of handling you as you are foreign and can't interact on the same level with Japanese people. It doesn't matter if you are a professional in a world of professionals and the person placed in charge of you was a hard drinking working holiday visa college drop-out.

What the Kaga people feared was that this would lead to its being taken away from them by the Tycoon's government... But they did not venture to say this openly, and alleged therefore various other excuses, such as the inhabitants were not accustomed to see foreigners... pg. 248

Do I need to elaborate on this one? If you have ever tried to rent an apartment, or get a credit card or change your car title or buy an iPhone in Japan you will get a taste of this. You definitely will if you work in the bureaucracy. I have said before that Japan is the biggest nation of excuse makers I can think of. But, to some extent, they have had to be as responsibility is a hot potato time bomb that one has to distribute quickly and then back slowly away from until it is safe to start running.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

TV Lies?

The wife and I have an ongoing.....discussion, shall we say, about the amount that TV, especially Japanese TV lies to you. I contend that the amount is somewhere between always and most of the time. Her contention is that that would be bad so it would be surprising if that wer to happen. By singalling out Japanese TV you may think that I am letting American TV off the hook. I am not, but we live in Japan and the exposure that we both have to American TV is usually trying to force her to watch Treme while she struggles to stay awake or of renting Lost on DVD.

If you have never witnessed Japanese TV you are probably picturing the kind of shows that become notorious in the US. Men seeing who can drink beer in a sauna until they die. Doe-eyed, dyed blonds in pink maid outfits up to no good. Absurd obstacle courses. Those programs must exist, but they aren't the staple of prime time viewing. What is the mainstay of Japanese television is a constant barrage of the same recycled celebrities providing inane commentary on everything that they either don't know about or I don't care about. If you follow martial arts at all you will be familiar with a dynamic. Often for a kick-boxing match the commentary team will be a retired baseball player and a model. They will provide critical information such as, "He is big." Or "He looks mean." Often the model will cry win the man they had tauted to win, but was weaker all along loses. They people are called "talent." This wasn't meant to be ironic. The main qualification seems to be, and yes I will go ahead and finish the though just for forms sake, is to have no talent. You will have a sure hit on your hands if a pop band that can neither dance nor sing, much less play any instruments, hosts a cooking show where they don't really cook.

I had avoided Japanese television for years because it works my nerves as well as rotting my brains. I avoided it until I got married and I could no longer avoid it. My wife, being Japanese, will feel terrible and alone if not plugged into the hive mind. That is largely what television in Japan is. There are only four or so channels and the same people are on all of them everyday. Literally. The real literally, not the figurative one. I should state that I don't mean this as an insult to my wife. I don't like her viewing choices, but, if we were in America, I would certainly feel left out if I didn't watch football on Sunday's and March Madness and everything else that is sewed tenderly into the fabric of our society. It would be normal.

As TV is TV, it is in the habit of lying. The truth is shaped to form the storyline as following reality can get messy. I could just sit back and scoff at all of this ironically, but in Japan, the storyline guides society. There aren't those who prefer MSNBC to FOX or who like HBO and AMC shows and forgo CSI:Miami. It is THE storyline for the nation. It is THE way the world works. And it is an absurd fable.

Last night I experienced a prime example. For some reason at my house we end up watching the same show most Tuesday's. Neither of us like this show. We never say, "I really want to watch that show." We never change or plans to see it or check what channel it is on. It just happens. Cafes usually have Tuesdays off. I am home. She is home. Whatever the cause. The show itself is awful. I am not sure how to translate it accurately in English. It is, according to the title, about witches. But not how we would envision them. Maybe magical princesses. It usually involves a lady in her mid forties who had a run of bad luck, got fat, and then lost the weight. They story will have a few amusing turns and people will call the hero names and she will try really hard, often coming up with a ridiculous diet or exercise program, and then she will triumph in the end. The show climaxes with the witch coming on stage in a soft, white, Warren Beatty like light, where the panelists of cross-dressers, comedians and washed-up pop stars can faun over them.

Yesterday featured a chubby girl who was watching TV and decided she wanted an American boyfriend so she moved to America. While there, in New York City of course, she found the perfect guy, wrote a manga about him, fell in love and got married. Everyone was amazed. She also dropped 20 or so pounds in the process. They showed a picture of her and her husband and told everyone how her manga was more popular than Harry Potter in America. I was sitting at the computer studying kanji and smelled something fishy, not just from y kitchen. During the whole story I had been voicing my disapproval, saying that someone who moved to America to get a boyfriend was pathetic and should be embarrassed to admit to it on TV. When the statement was made about the popularity of her manga, I immediately realized that that made the story verifiable and decided to check it out. Five seconds on Google later, I came up with this. This is an interesting story, but it is surely not the same thing. The wife was taken aback, my exposure of the falsehood of the storyline was rendered such, "So she is really famous!"
"Well, she is in the newspaper." I answered. "But look at the story. She was homeless and she got divorced and she was an exchange student, not just a boyfriend hunter. The story isn't true. It was much more textured and said a lot about the artists grit and the nature of trying to make it in America. It had all been sanitized into a vapid love story that only played to Japanese conceptions. Look, she says that American college was harder than Japanese college." I laughed, knowing the truth and being glad that the lady had realized it. "You just love to make fun of Japan!" I could pursue that argument, but rather I make the declaration, Japan just loves to make a fool of itself.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Don't Blame JET

Well, the title was fortunate because I don't. Apparently there has been some uproar over the recent opinion piece by Debito Arudou. Who could have seen this? Before I weigh in, two points.

1. I generally like Debito even though I think he writes like a clod and might be a miserable bore to hang out with. I often say that complaining is the first step in a democracy and I think he is doing some serious stamina training on that first step. But if he didn't, who is?

2. There seems to be a particular rhetorical trait of my generation, or maybe it is of every generation and I just came to understand it as I grew into making arguments. I am not sure what to call this thing, this pattern, this discussive course. It goes something like this, "I don't agree with one hundred percent of what you are saying and I can find some small pieces that might or might not be flawed based largely on my opinion and the way I understand a few facts so your argument and how you feel must therefore be wrong." I think that part of this arose from a culture, internet and pre-internet, that found people rewarded for having "a take" more than having an opinion. For having something to say more than having actually, something to say. But that is just my observation.

Here is Debito-san's article on the JET Programme, of which, I am an illustrious alumni.

Where Debito goes wrong, as I have observed before, is that there are many different classroom environments than the one's he describes. Most teachers tell kids, "It is okay to make a mistake." Most classrooms are very forgiving. The real issue is that the Monbusho, the school boards, the schools and the individual teachers have no idea what they want from English education or from ALTs. The whole system in constrained by the racialist view that non-Japanese can't be real teachers and so the curriculum and approach are in the hands of people who may or may not be able to speak English. Most English teachers I have met have never been out of the country. Most high level English speakers I have met, would never be permitted to be teachers and would have been hard pressed to get into the system and to have spent time abroad.

I am glad that Debito points out that JET isn't necessarily about education. True and true. It know has alumni in government and business around the world. I am one of the few exceptions that stayed the course and went broke doing so. JET has never been about bringing in good teachers or shaping good teachers, although it does sometimes by accident.

As I have said before, under the current approach, and that is an important caveat, I think English should be done away with as a subject in junior high. It can have a meaning and a purpose, but right now, it is rudderless and foundering.

Here are a sampling or responses. I am not calling them wrong or right. As we all know; Every situation is different.

Two Weeks

Two weeks between postings is becoming regular and is ridiculous. A large byproduct of being married is that, while you still have a lot of free time at night, it isn't free time sitting around writing about stuff. Maybe it is just harder to concentrate, maybe it is because writing is a lonely game anyway. Who knows. In the mean time, Alabama lost, America tied, the Braves barely made the playoffs and are trying to bail out. I have gotten into several fights in the teachers room and then made up. It is hot everyday in October and I am being stung my mosquitoes. I have also completely given up on the Japanese educational system. Oh yes, I am also very busy at school and the computing situation has changed for the worse.

attempting to silence the voices in my head.